The Struggle of Teaching the First Class of the Day

Chronic tardiness and strolling in with coffee, anyone?

The teaching profession can be quite rewarding—for those of us not teaching first period classes. Let me explain.

I begin my day with more than 30 seniors. It’s not uncommon for five or more to be chronically tardy.

With a 7:45 start time, a 7:55 entrance isn’t outside the norm. It’s an ongoing issue and a frustrating one, at that. My school’s tardy policy includes progressive punishment. Once a student accrues more than three tardies, an in-school suspension follows. But if I’m being honest, it’s a pain to track tardies and follow through based on sheer volume alone. 

I asked a few of my students who are often late if any of them have jobs. Several do. The common sentiment was they’re never late for work because they’re paid to be there. Yep, there it is: the old money-motivator motif. How easily they devalue punctuality when there’s no money involved. 

And sure, it’s not always the students’ fault.

There are exceptions. Some kids have to walk extremely long distances. Some may have difficult home circumstances that create additional challenges. But in my experience, most of my tardy seniors aren’t facing those kinds of barriers. 

My favorite is when they casually stroll in with a Tim Hortons or McDonald’s cup.

For me, it’s not even about the coffee. If you’re in class on time, and you’ve run through the drive-thru, fine. Drink your coffee. I’m glad you’re here. When stopping off for coffee makes you 20 minutes late, though, the priorities are skewed.


Some of these same students will ask for letters of recommendation. I’ll tell you what, that’s a hard letter to write. I wish these students would realize their chronic tardiness is a reflection of attitude and effort. It’s a bold declaration of what they value—or don’t. 

The irony is, as a teacher, I might get one free pass if I’m late.

But chronic tardiness is unacceptable. Yes, I’m paid to be there, but I respect my boss. I understand his expectations for me. I respect his role and how my own fits into the bigger picture. My students aren’t paid to sit in the desks, as they love to point out, but they wouldn’t dare arrive late to football or basketball practice. The coach can punish by withholding playing time—a great deterrent. Eventually, an athlete might even lose his spot on the team if tardiness becomes habitual. First period English, though, doesn’t garner the same respect. 

I’m realizing more and more that sometimes I need to teach what respect looks like.

The concept of tangible respect is skewed for many young people today. Earbuds in during instructional time is rude. Ignoring a morning greeting from your teacher is rude. Coming to class 20 minutes late—especially with coffee in hand – is rude. Those behaviors aren’t intended to be malicious—students just don’t recognize what respectfulness looks like. 2020 seems as good a time as any to reflect and make some adjustments.

Do you teach first-period classes? Come and share your experiences in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook

Plus, where school discipline goes wrong.

The Struggle of Teaching the First Class of the Day